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Goodbye Tom Billionis 

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When my wife and I moved back to Springfield in 2009, I was in a dark place. I was feeling defeated, having to move away from a place that we loved back to a place we had already left. This also left me feeling very constrained. I had just acquired an interest in food and drink but I had little money to explore the fine things that life has to offer and no one to share my love of those things with. But then I stumbled into the Coffee Ethic one day.

The man behind the counter commented on my leather bag and then ran up the stairs to fetch his own by the same make. We chatted about how we came to be in possession of such nice bags and how it was a privilege to be able to carry something so well made around with us. Subsequent visits to the Ethic provided more conversations about nice things in life: about good coffee, good wine, good food, and about having a family. While I sat at the bar we’d try and make sense of what was left of our faith and we’d dream about what downtown Springfield could be. He’d humor my ridiculous ideas about pizza joints, homebrew shops, and butcher counters while I’d listen to him talk about creating a community around coffee.

We eventually added good beer to the list of things we’d talk about. We’d often go to beer tastings at the Wine Center or host our own at my house with spoils from recent travels. I’d get so upset at Tom and my guests for taking pictures of their food and drink instead of eating and imbibing and Tom would remind me not take things so seriously. We started grabbing beers together a few times a week and before I knew it I had a very important friendship on my hands and a love for the town of Springfield.

Tom and I played on a bocce team together a few times and we would fantasize about a life in which we were old men playing the game behind some cafe that he owned, drinking wine all day. For a long time there was a standing lunch date, every Thursday, along with Dante and eventually a few others. We started off by exploring the restaurants of the city until we settled into what ended up being our regular places. On those lunches we’d often take advantage of being self employed by taking two to three hours to eat. And, of course, we’d wash things down with a midday beer or two.

He was also that friend of mine that had a truck. He helped me move into my house. He helped pick up furniture that my wife had bought. He took the time out of his day to drive out to Ash Grove and pick up a vintage fridge to support my idea of turning it into a meat curing cabinet—something I still haven’t done. He gave my wife a job and, I suspect, kept that less-than-lucrative satellite cafe open so our family would have some extra income before our daughter was born.

Tom was extremely supportive of me and my career. He would always be sure to take his pictures with Hipstamatic and was the only one of my friends here in Springfield that used Oggl with any regularity—both are two products that I hand in making. He even sported the Hipstamatic case that made your phone look like a camera for much longer than I did myself. When I came out with my coffee app, Bloom, he told his friends in the industry about it, and even pushed it to customers of the Ethic. When I went out on my own, Tom was there to hear my terrified ramblings about being a new business owner and was always ready with sage advice.

For reasons that escape me right now, we grew apart. Maybe we were both too busy. Maybe we both changed. Coincidentally or perhaps partly because of our waning relationship I sunk back into a dark place. What ever was the cause of the crevice that formed between us the effect was that I kept driving him away and then did not have him around to help me figure things out anymore. And now that Tom was unfairly taken from us all this past Saturday I’m kicking myself for letting my grip loosen on that friendship. While I’m thankful that Tom, having taught me so much already, gave me one final lesson about the importance of being gracious and accepting, I cannot believe the cost of it.

Goodbye Tom. Thank you for all of the conversations over the years. Thank you for being a friend when I needed it. I appreciate you more than I ever told you.

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Navigating the Bootstrapper Thing 

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Any long time readers here will know that I’ve heard the siren’s call and I’ve been fantasizing about (and working toward) having a small product of my own. Like any other topic that I have an interest in, I’ve been absorbing as much as I can about what people are saying and what advice is being given about starting a small business online—and now I feel paralyzed. You see, this tiny, little industry is a bit of a self-serving ghetto.

I’ve always looked up to people like Marco Arment, John Gruber, and especially Maciej Cegłowski who have their own, small computer products that they use to support themselves. There are others, but these gentlemen have been generous with what they have learned while running their own businesses. They don’t talk about this stuff directly very often but they give talks and host podcasts and there is plenty of good advice given within. Its just not compiled anywhere.

So in my search for more structured information I came upon a large group of people talking about how they work for themselves supporting their own software products and I started reading what they have to say. Once I dug a little bit deeper it seemed that few of these people are actually running software projects, rather, they sell ebooks. Who do they sell these to? As far as I can tell, it seems like mostly to each other or other people who want to be part of their group. Look: I’m a white guy, from America, who went to a liberal arts college, of course I’ve thought about how it would be fun to write a book. But I’m not sure what I had in mind was peddling PDFs on the internet with a Buzzfeed-esque title and a landing page with testimonials from people doing the same. But still, I dug in a bit further.

I can tell you that almost universally all of these people’s first advice is to set up an email list. I am not against email marketing. In fact, I find some of the email solicitation that I receive helpful and appreciate that if I ever get tired of hearing from someone I can unsubscribe or, if it comes to it, I can create a rule in my email client so I don’t hear from them again. So, following the advice of the bootstrapper-shaman and you’ll soon find magic pieces of HTML and Javascript from questionable companies that you can paste into your website.

This is where things get especially shady and the advice moves from creating a collection of emails to doing things that I find morally reprehensible. This is where you’re directed to do things like have an email sign up form take over someone’s screen or give the personal information of people who visit your website to marketing companies so they can track them around the internet for you. This where you lie in that one-pixel corner of your website, waiting, ready to jump in and send them an email when they are most vulnerable. This is where you disregard someone’s privacy and patience so you can make a quick buck. This is the part that I can’t get past. I really wonder if the people who engage in this sort of behavior have never gotten annoyed with a bit of Javascript that rudely hides an article that they were reading, and if so, how they justify adding to it something that they have work on. Do they have bad taste and not find it annoying? Is it the “well, it works” or the “everyone else is doing it” mentality? Or perhaps worst of all, do they not see anything wrong with the lack of respect for other people they display?

There might be some good advice among these bootstrappers if I sift through what these folks say and filter it through my own view of the world. And maybe I was looking for shortcuts and I shouldn’t been surprised by the amount of crap being push by people doing the same. I’m not afraid of hard work; I enjoy it. One piece of advice given by almost all of the people that I do admire is this: build something that you need/want yourself. This is surprisingly difficult to keep track of, when you’re in the midst of coding or design, but hopefully I am.

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Back to Work 

A quick update to say that I am back up and at ‘em this morning from my paternity leave. I read an article while I was on leave (I can’t find a link to it anywhere) that talked about how most men don’t take any time off when their family has a new child and I am thankful that my situation lets me take some time off. Honestly, I don’t understand how you could not take time off.

So thanks to everyone that gave me a bit of space while we got to know our new son. I know there are a few of you out there are waiting for responses from me and I hope I can maintain focus enough to respond back by the end of the week. If it is urgent, feel free to ping me again.

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The First Few Weeks With a Newborn 

Here is a scene from our house this week that I think illustrates what it is like to have a newborn around again. Last night I was too tired to finish a glass of Scotch that I had poured for myself, so I did something that I’m not especially proud of: I put plastic wrap over the top of the glass to save it for another time. And then this morning I finished that glass in shower.

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Paternity Leave 

Things have been a bit quiet around here lately and that is because my wife gave birth to our second child this past Saturday morning! Its been a lot of fun, yet very tiring, having another little one in the house again but I do feel that we have a better handle on things this time around. I’m taking a few weeks off from the internet and work to support my wife and family so I may be a bit slower to respond to any correspondence sent my way.

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Separating Concerns On a Website 

Echoing the post that I wrote last week, I’ve been toying around with the idea of breaking my technical posts out to another website. My studio has never had much of a web presence at all and I’ve had an itch to fix that lately. I’ve also been wanting to write some more technical how-to style entries but they often seem inappropriate to post along side of entries about making beer and working in the garden. So the idea is this: keep this blog as more of a personal journal and start a new blog for Central Standard with posts about programming, business, and tech.

I’m still leary of making this change just because of how much overlap there is between my hobbies, my home life, and work. I fear that having to make distinctions about where to post something that I have to say will paralyze me at times. Not to mention the chore of keeping up with two blogs instead of one. I already don’t have much of an audience so I worry that fragmenting my readers (you guys!) won’t help things. But I also wonder if the reason I have no audience is because I don’t have much direction to my writing. I, for instance, follow very few personal blogs on the internet anymore and mostly subscribe to people that post about certain topics.

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Finding an Audience 

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about creating products lately. This is all part of me wanting to get away from the model of getting paid solely for the hours that I work. A universal theme across anyone who has found success with creating products online is to find an audience. This is definitely the part that I struggle with the most. I’ve built plenty of things in the past—and I’m building something now—things that have taken me months and months work, only to launch to crickets. Its frustrating and demoralizing.

My problem isn’t that I have a hard time with writing—I actually love to write—its that I don’t know what to write about. I don’t mean this in a “writer’s block” sort of way. I actually have tons that I would like to write about but my interests and skills are so diverse that I don’t how to narrow it down. I think this has been my problem with Twitter for past four years or so too. People follow me for a variety of different reasons. My audience, such as it is, is fragmented and I don’t even know what sort of things I should be posting about.

So the question is: do I focus on one thing that I am really good at? I do I start different websites, email lists, Twitter accounts, etc., that represent a segment of what I would like to teach people? What do people even want to hear from me about? (My guess is that it isn’t what computer I use and what I’m doing on my camper. Or is it?)

If you have a second, shoot me an email and let me know why you pay attention to what I have to say. I am extremely curious.

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Things I Use: Work Computer 

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I honestly don’t know why I find knowing what other people’s stack is like so interesting, but I do. Perhaps when I younger it gave me an idea of all of the new stuff that was out there to buy but for last six years contentment has been one of my main focuses and that has definitely influenced my technology and computer purchases. While I still have too many bits of technology in my office, the frequency in which I change things around has dropped a lot of the last few years. There are a few changes that I would like to make to my set up once I move into the camper but, without further adieu, here is what powers my work day to day:

13-inch Retina Macbook Pro

This is the obvious workhorse of my set up. When I first got the machine, the crisp screen was like a breath of fresh air for someone who stares at text all day while programming. I really felt like it reduced eye strain and that my eyes felt better at the end of the day.

When I first got the machine I was always on the move. I worked from coffee shops everyday or went back and forth from home and an office I had in downtown Springfield. These days I’m almost always working from my desk in my home office so I’m starting to think trading portability for power may not be worth it like it once was. I’m currently hooking the computer up to two 4K monitors (more on that in a bit) but they really cause my computer bog down. Not only that, I wasn’t aware until after purchasing the monitors that the model of Macbook Pro that I have cannot power 4K displays. Oops.

I’d love to upgrade to a desktop-class computer soon but that leads to a bigger, more convoluted discussion about where the Apple ecosystem is headed, the decline in the quality and stability of their OS, and the increasing tendency of Apple to limit what you can do with products that you buy form them. And then I’m paralyzed I find myself sticking with what I already have.

Two 27-Inch Dell Ultra HD 4K Monitors

The model number on these is P2715Q11. As I mentioned above, my Macbook Pro is underpowered and cannot drive 4K resolutions to these monitors. However, the added screen real estate was such a boost to my productivity that I still end up working off of the monitors rather than the Retina screen of my Macbook almost all of the time.

The connection between the laptop and my monitors is frustratingly finiky at times. I’m not sure what the problem is or if I should be blaming Apple or Dell but sometimes the displays will become unresponsive and the only way I can get them to display anything at all is to is to yank the power cord out from the back of the monitor and plug it in again.

CODE 104-Ket Mechanical Keyboard

Last year I started experiencing some serious fatigue in my wrists and I realized that it was largely due to what is known was “bottoming out” by keyboard enthusiasts. So I decided to transition from Apple’s fussy wireless keyboard to a mechanical keyboard. I wanted something overly-simple—you can go completely overboard when it comes to keyboards—and my research lead me to the CODE line of keyboards from WASD.

I’ve been typing on this thing since May of 2015 and the joints in my hands and wrists feel so much better. In fact I almost never have any pain after typing all day anymore. The Cherry MX Clear switches are not loud and the large keys are simply pleasant to type on. I see what all of the fuss is about when it comes to mechanical keyboards now. Also I, being a sucker for nostalgia, love that clunky keys remind me of all of the computers I learned to program on.

Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse

I now that I have black, dual-display monitors and a glowing, clicky keyboard. Why not round out the ensemble with a gamer mouse? My wrists and hands hurt so bad at the beginning of last year that I was desparate to try anything. Apple’s Magic Mouse looks nice on a desk (or in lifestyle photos on Instagram) but it was obvious to me that the way my hand was resting on the thing was killing my wrists. After a month with a very cheap “Amazon Basics” mouse that I picked up to use with a Raspberry Pi, my wrists felt loads better and I knew that I could no longer use the Magic Mouse. However, the Amazon mouse that I was using was a peice of junk and much of OS X’s interface expects that you’re using something that can easily scroll sideways. I couldn’t just use any old mouse.

After a bit of research I found out that a lot of gaming mice have a scroll wheel for your thumb and that they can be configured to work well on OS X. So I bought a mouse that looks like it was designed by someone who likes to wear pink shirts, flip up their collars, and drive around in cars that make the ground below them glow while watching Vin Diesel movies on a display mounted on their dash. But the thing is wonderful. Its comfortable to use and it is responsive and accurate. I had the same sort of epiphany about mice as I did about mechanical keyboards, saying to myself: “so this is why gamers fuss so much about their mice”. Its really a pleasure to use.

For so long, I’ve just defaulted to whatever Apple offered and not even questioned what else was out there. Branching out from the Apple bubble has made me realize how much I was valuing form over function and that that was actually starting to impact me in physical ways. I feel like my mind has been opened up to question all of the ways in which I defaulted to Apple products just because that is what I do and because, in the past, things worked the way they were supposed to.

If you ever visited my now page then you might have seen a small point on there that reads somethings like “wean myself off of the Apple ecosystem”. I don’t like that I was choosing things out of habit that were impacting me negetively and I’m starting evaluate how I may be doing similar things in choosing some of their other hardware and software. More on this later.

Outside of technology, what other habitual choices am I making that are slowly wearing on me without me noticing it? More on this later too.

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Eligo Alpha Launched! 

At the end of last week I quietly launched an alpha version of Eligo. The saying goes something like this: if you’re not embarassed by your first version then you waited too long to launch. I’m certainly telling myself that now that it is out there for everyone to see. I’ve been letting a handful of people kick the tires but there is still so much that needs to be done. So much so that I’m tempted to call it a “pre-alpha”.

If you’re interested in seeing what a half-backed web service looks like, reach out to me directly or use the waiting list for on the Eligo homepage.

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The Importance of Having a Creative Outlet 

For much of last year I was in a bit of a creative slump. Its seems so strange to think about now with the way things have been this year but I would often sit down with some extra time on my hands with no idea about what I should work on. I would beat my head against the wall trying to come up with ideas and have nothing to show for it (except a metaphoric bloody brow). Right now, I don’t have enough time to get all of the things done that I want to. Big ideas, small ideas. Great ideas, dumb ideas. I’ve almost filled up a Field Notes notebook completely in these first two months of the year. And it feels great.

I attribute this newfound creative boost to the work I’ve done on Eligo. Its so important—for my mind, at least—to have some productive creativity. The creative part of my brain needs to be excerised, just like a muscle in my leg. Not only that, I need to feel like I’m making progress or moving toward something.

Reflecting again on last year, one thing I certainly learned about myself is that I need creativity in my life. If I’m not getting that out of my workday then it is up to me to provide myself with an outlet to flex those muscles. I plan to, from this point forward, always have some sort of side project that I’m working on and make sure I’m giving myself time each week to work on it.

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